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Replicating bacterium-vectored vaccine expressing SARS-CoV-2 Membrane and Nucleocapsid proteins protects against severe COVID-19 disease in hamsters

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An inexpensive readily manufactured COVID-19 vaccine that protects against severe disease is needed to combat the pandemic. We have employed the LVS Δ capB vector platform, previously used successfully to generate potent vaccines against the Select Agents of tularemia, anthrax, plague, and melioidosis, to generate a COVID-19 vaccine. The LVS Δ capB vector, a replicating intracellular bacterium, is a highly attenuated derivative of a tularemia vaccine (LVS) previously administered to millions of people. We generated vaccines expressing SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins and evaluated them for efficacy in the golden Syrian hamster, which develops severe COVID-19 disease. Hamsters immunized intradermally or intranasally with a vaccine co-expressing the Membrane (M) and Nucleocapsid (N) proteins, then challenged 5-weeks later with a high dose of SARS-CoV-2, were protected against severe weight loss and lung pathology and had reduced viral loads in the oropharynx and lungs. Protection by the vaccine, which induces murine N-specific interferon-gamma secreting T cells, was highly correlated with pre-challenge serum anti-N TH1-biased IgG. This potent vaccine against severe COVID-19 should be safe and easily manufactured, stored, and distributed, and given the high homology between MN proteins of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, has potential as a universal vaccine against the SARS subset of pandemic causing β-coronaviruses.

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